The shooting of a young teen in Florida three weeks ago is every parent’s nightmare — what might happen to my child when he’s out of my sight? And for African American parents, this scenario is even more terrifying.
Trayvon Martin’s death has triggered an outpouring of anger, with protests, petitions and calls for justice. It has also triggered some wrenching commentary from parents who say that to raise a minority in this country, particularly an African American boy, is to live with the understanding that the child will be arbitrarily mistreated. It is also to live with the burden of explaining this reality.
Writing for The Post, Jonathan Capehart this week described how his mother took him aside before his first day at a predominantly white school:
“Reading about Trayvon reminded me of the list of the “don’ts” I received after my sheltered existence in Hazlet, N.J., was replaced with the reality of Newark when my mother remarried in the 1980s.
“Don’t run in public.” Lest someone think you’re suspicious.
“Don’t run while carrying anything in your hands.” Lest someone think you stole something.
“Don’t talk back to the police.” Lest you give them a reason to take you to jail or worse”
On the blog “Black and Married with Kids,” Michelle Johnson lists what she calls “the rules” she plans to pass down to her 6-year-old daughter. Among them:
1. Don’t touch anything when you go into stores. …
2. Always ask for a bag for the items you purchased. ... My mom didn’t want anyone thinking that we walked out of the store without paying for our merchandise. …
3. Know who you are. You can’t do everything they do. In other words, just because your white friend does something that doesn’t mean you can do the same. Whether it’s hanging at the mall or going to a house party, police, teachers, and other authorities treat white children differently than black children. …
4. Go where you say you are going and come straight home. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to being falsely accused of crimes. …
Another take comes from CNN’s Christy Oglesby, writing for the network’s “In America” blog. In “My 12-year old son knows he could be Trayvon,” Oglesby walks through several recent cases of bias crimes and notes how her son could have been the victim.
“I spend a lot of time praying. I have to. My son is black. His race gives me much more to fear than his fearlessness,” she writes.
“Maybe I shouldn’t keep reminding Drew about the risks that come with being black and male in America. It’s just the best that I can do under the circumstances. That story is a part of the “tool kit” I’ve cobbled together to help him stay alive. It’s as important as my “proverbs.” That’s what my son calls my pithy reminders of how he should dress, act, speak and respond to authority. He’s committed most of them to memory.”
How has the news of Trayvon Martin’s death affected you? Are there different “rules” in your family?